Pope John Paul II called for a New Evangelization; Denver answered

Moira Cullings

Shortly after Pope John Paul II visited Denver during World Youth Day in 1993, Curtis Martin had the opportunity to meet with the pope and share his vision for an organization called FOCUS.

The idea was that FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) would evangelize students on college campuses, a place where many people lose their faith. When the pope heard the idea, his message for Martin was simple.

“Be soldiers,” he said.

“We’ve really taken that as a heartfelt call to be soldiers for Christ, to be willing to lay down our lives for the sake of the Gospel,” said John Zimmer, Vice President of Apostolic Development at FOCUS.

Over the past 25 years, FOCUS has impacted tens of thousands of young people across the country and the world.

It’s one of several organizations that hit the ground running after the pope’s visit, sparked by his call for a New Evangelization, and whose impact has shaped the Catholic Church in Denver and throughout the world.

Seminaries bring ‘a richness’ to the archdiocese

After WYD 1993, the Archdiocese of Denver went on to shape future priests first-hand by creating two local seminaries.

Redemptoris Mater was established in 1996 and St. John Vianney in 1999. Both seminaries are located on the campus of the John Paul II Center for the New Evangelization.

“After the experience of the World Youth Day in Denver in August 1993, Archbishop [J. Francis] Stafford saw the goodness of establishing a diocesan in Denver and studied the possibility of opening a diocesan and missionary Redemptoris Mater seminary here,” said Father Tobias Rodriguez-Lasa.

We’ve really taken that as a heartfelt call to be soldiers for Christ, to be willing to lay down our lives for the sake of the Gospel.”

Father Rodriguez-Lasa is the current rector at Redemptoris Mater, an international seminary that brings in men from around the world.

“Internationality adds richness to the formation experience,” said Father Rodriguez-Lasa, “as these future priests learn to live, work, study, play sports and interact in a variety of ways with other fellow seminarians coming from other cultures and world viewpoints.”

Father Rodriguez-Lasa believes bringing in seminarians from other countries “is a richness for everyone in the archdiocese, as it makes present the Catholicity and universality that constitute one of the distinctive characteristics of the Church.”

He finds that having two seminaries in Denver helps the seminarians — especially those from other countries studying for Denver — to stay in close contact with the archbishop and other Church leaders, as well as gain a better understanding of the parishes and ministries in the archdiocese.

Working within those parishes and ministries is a key part of formation at both seminaries, as the seminarians help the young and the elderly and offer services for Catholics and non-Catholics alike. This, said Father Rodriguez-Lasa, is how the seminaries play a role in the New Evangelization in Denver.

“The miracle is that the more we participate in the New Evangelization,” he said, “the more we receive from it.”

Augustine Institute ‘on the cutting edge’ of JPII’s vision

The Augustine Institute has formed disciples who have gone on to evangelize through a variety of apostolates.

By offering an M.A. in Theology, an M.A. in Leadership, study programs, videos and more, the Augustine Institute has created lay leaders in the New Evangelization.

“We opened in August 2006, inspired by Saint Pope John Paul II’s call for a new evangelization . . .” said Tim Gray, president of the Augustine Institute, in a 2016 interview with Denver Catholic.

“We wanted to help people effectively engage, evangelize and win the post-modern culture that believes anyone can have their own private story, but there should be no public story,” said Gray.

Those who participate in the Augustine Institute go on to work in a variety of apostolates, said Gray.

“We are also amazed by the new ways graduates go into the field,” he said.

Organizations created by graduates of the Augustine Institute include Camp Wojtyla and Christ in the City. Others have gone on to work as leaders in the Archdiocese of Denver office and our Catholic schools.

The miracle is that the more we participate in the New Evangelization, the more we receive from it.”

And by launching formed.org, an online video streaming service that offers Catholic content to people around the world, those who aren’t seeking a degree but simply want to go deeper in their faith have the opportunity to do so.

“This is on the cutting edge of the New Evangelization,” said Gray.

FOCUS fights on the ‘battleground for souls’

Since Pope John Paul II’s visit, FOCUS has evangelized tens of thousands of college students. The organization expects that by 2022, around 75,000 students who were involved with FOCUS have transitioned into many of the 17,000 plus parishes in the United States.

“I think JPII not only challenged the Church for lay Catholics to evangelize, but in his World Youth Day efforts, he really challenged the young people to say that this is your role, your responsibility, so take an active part,” said Zimmer.

Zimmer admits the pope not only had a deep impact on the culture in Denver, but also on his own life.

“Even for me in this lost, dazed and confused world I was in at the time, it was still a very moving experience to see the pope land in the helicopter and watch him come in,” said Zimmer.

“It planted a seed [in me] that took a decade to come to fruition.”

Zimmer joined FOCUS in 1999 shortly after it was founded, and he and his wife first served as missionaries. Since then, Zimmer has held a variety of roles in the corporate office in Denver.

At FOCUS, college campuses are seen as a critical time when students need the Gospel to build upon a strong foundation for a sturdy faith life.

“The college campus is really a battleground for souls,” said Zimmer. “I think the Church needs to do as good a job as possible at trying to reach souls on college campuses when they’re in a time of questioning and they’re away from their parents for the first time.

“It’s a really pivotal moment in their life, and the Church needs to be there for them.”

One of the biggest ways FOCUS spreads the New Evangelization, said Zimmer, is by showing that the Gospel still matters today.

“I think one of the great opportunities we’ve had is to be a witness that the Gospel is still relevant,” said Zimmer, “and it’s relevant to young people.”

25 years down the road, FOCUS has high hopes for its evangelization efforts.

It’s a really pivotal moment in their life, and the Church needs to be there for them.”

“By then, hopefully millions of people who were involved in FOCUS will be planted in parishes throughout the country,” said Zimmer, “and there will be renewal happening all over — not just through FOCUS, but through all the other great apostolates.”

Seminaries
  • In the 2018-2019 academic year
    • 73 men studying for the priesthood for the Archdiocese of Denver
    • 52 men from outside the Archdiocese of Denver studying for the priesthood at St. John Vianney
    • 33 men studying for the priesthood at Redemptoris Mater
    • 125 men in formation studying in Denver at both St. John Vianney and Redemptoris Mater
FOCUS
  • In the 2018-2019 academic year
    • Nearly 700 missionaries are serving full-time on 153 college campuses
    • Missionaries will serve college campuses across 42 U.S. states and five international locations
    • A campus in England, Germany and Ireland, and two campuses in Austria, will be served by FOCUS missionaries
  • By 2022
    • FOCUS expects to have 75,000 students transitioned into many of the over 17,000 Catholic parishes in the United States
  • Since its founding
    • Tens of thousands of students have been involved with FOCUS
    • Out of those involved in FOCUS, 732 have decided to pursue religious vocations

COMING UP: Catholic Baby University prepares parents for the real deal

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Heidi and Jim Knous had no idea that something like a Catholic childbirth education existed. But not long after finding out the great news that they were expecting their first child, Brady, they came across an article in the Denver Catholic introducing Catholic Baby University — a program designed to teach expecting parents the nuts and bolts of both childbirth and Catholicism.

“I think it’s special because it gives you an opportunity to step back from all the registries and baby shower… and to really take time to come together as a couple to think about this vocation, what parenthood is … and how you want that to look for your family,” Heidi said.

“I think there’s a lot of distractions when you’re about to have a child,” Jim added. “Everybody knows it’s going to be tough and you’re going through a lot. Everybody’s trying to tell you, ‘You should do this, you should do that.’ But Catholic Baby U really gives you a solid understanding of what having a child is going to be like and includes the values that we learned as a family in raising a baby in the Catholic faith.”

Jim and Heidi Knous and their son Brady, are parishioners at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Denver. (Photo provided)

 

The Catholic Baby University holistic program for parents — offered both as a weekend retreat or a six-class series — is the result of the partnership between Rose Medical Center and the Archdiocese of Denver and was inspired by the previously-founded Jewish Baby University.

The classes touch on topics dealing with childbirth instruction, postpartum experience, baby safety and the Catholic faith — and they are taught and facilitated by certified birth and safety instructors, mental health professionals, and members from the Office of Evangelization and Family Ministry of the Archdiocese of Denver.

“Statistically, people become more religiously involved when they have children, so we want to respond to people’s desires to reengage their faith with the coming of their child,” said Scott Elmer, Director of the Office of Evangelization and Family Life Ministries of the Archdiocese of Denver and also a facilitator of the program, in a previous interview. “We want to be there to welcome them, celebrate the new life, and give them the tools they need to incorporate God into their home life.”

For Jim and Heidi, who are parishioners at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, the experience of having both the childbirth and Catholic aspects in this preparation did not disappoint, as they learned from each one.

“It was a great opportunity to come back and think about things from a basic level again and how to bring our child into the faith — things that you haven’t necessarily thought of or how you would teach a child something, [like praying],” Heidi said.

“Something we learned [that really made me reflect] was that the bond between me and Brady and between Heidi and Brady are very different. It happens at very different times,” Jim shared. “Right away when Heidi finds out she’s pregnant, then her bonding with Brady already starts all the way until Brady’s born. As a dad, it doesn’t start until he is born and I’m actually holding him.”

Heidi assured the concept of “gatekeeping” also helped them prepare for parenting better.

“[Gatekeeping] is when, as a mom, you get really wrapped up in, ‘Only I know how to change baby diapers, only I know how to feed the baby, only I know how to do this,’” Heidi explained. “And I am someone who I could’ve seen thinking that I could be the only person that knew how to take care of [my child]. But gaining that understanding helped us co-parent a lot easier from the very beginning because I was aware of it.”

“I would tell [expecting couples] that Catholic Baby University is a great place to start, to gain community, to meet other people that are in a similar place that you are in; having people in the same room who are just as excited, just as terrified who also want to learn,” Heidi concluded. “It’s just a really awesome opportunity to take advantage of.”